06 Jun Responding to Climate Change
Soil censors, animal welfare tracking systems and blueberries may all have a vital role to play in challenging climate change.
Climate change will have both a physical and social impact on our world. That is a given. But it is how our agricultural sector can respond to climate change, which is key.
The world in which we live and work is constantly changing and evolving. How the future will unfold is inherently uncertain. Surprise is inevitable.
Agriculture faces many challenges which are directly linked to socio-economic, environmental and technological trends and issues. Climate change is an exacerbating factor, rather the driving force of change.
- Food security and the ability to ensure all citizens have access to affordable, nutritious food
- Rising demand for food due to population growth
- Changing consumer preferences and compliance with regulations
Increasing energy prices may also present a significant challenge, together with international pressures and market competition.
Physical changes expected by 2060 include sea–level rise and coastal erosion; higher temperatures and ocean acidification. However, what is more uncertain is how people will respond over the next 50 years to the effects. This is a big issue and here are some facts:
- Global temperatures have risen by over 0.7C in the last 300 years
- 0.5C of this warming has occurred during the 20th century
- Average global sea levels have increased by 0.1–0.2m over the last 100 years
- There will be a 2.0C rise in temperature by 2060 due to historic emissions
Low Carbon Economy
The UK has responded by aiming to achieve an 80% GHG emission reduction target in the Climate Change Bill. This will trigger dramatic changes in day to day life; transport will be one of the most heavily affected sectors initially. Freshwater floods will become more frequent and heatwaves with large numbers of elderly people dying more common. Coastal erosion and flooding will be common.
In response the low carbon economy is evolving. All new development is carbon neutral incorporating adaptation techniques, energy policy revolves around nuclear and renewables. Carbon Capture and Storage will be important, transport is moving from being fossil fuel driven to electric.
Energy and climate security will increasingly depend on stronger alliances with other large energy consumers, such as China, to develop and deploy new energy technologies, and less on relations with oil producing states. Energy security may force us to become more self–sufficient.
Impact on Agriculture
Climate change will through high temperatures and drought reduce cereal production. Energy and inputs will increase in prices as 95% of food is oil dependant; nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers will become more expensive. Greater competition for land, soil, and water, and declines in genetic diversity available to agriculture will impact on both the environmental and production capacity of the land in the medium term.
In order to respond agriculture can:
- Increase production for direct supply of food to insecure countries or lower agricultural commodity prices on world markets: intensification on existing agricultural land driven by global demand/prices;
- Introduce new crops or to expand existing crops that are currently only grown in small quantities, especially in the south, such as blueberries and maize, for example, as well as new industrial, energy and pharmaceutical crops.
- Seek to maintain similar level of self–sufficiency for UK by increasing production: intensification on existing agricultural land of 25%, but possible adoption of practices which mitigate some impacts on environment;
- Adopt a lower carbon agriculture and more agro–ecological approaches, concerned more with sustainability and profitability than production, but with development of local and regional markets for high quality added value products.
- Introduce regenerative farming practices to improve soil health though a number of techniques:
- Integrating livestock
- Cover crops
- Crop diversity
Agri tech innovations will play a vital role in both increasing the efficiency of the operation and facilitating communication. Technology can improve and support supply chain traceability that may include a cloud-based tracking system to communicate to the customer where an animal was born, how it grew up, and how it got to their plates.
Soil sensors can measure aeration and respiration—key soil health indicators—as well as nutrient levels throughout the season. Satellite crop health imagery software can allow growers to compare crop health at each growing stage as well as from season to season—a visual representation of the impact of regenerative techniques.
Communicating and connecting with consumers about the health and wellbeing of all food products will be one of the biggest drivers of consumer demand. This, in turn, will support the longevity and sustainability of the industry.
Climate change is happening, but the agricultural sector has the opportunity to become stronger in the face of the constant changes from the environment, political and economic spheres.
Defra : UK 2012 Climate Change Risk Assessment
Natural England Commissioned Report NECR030: Global drivers of change to 2060
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